Op-ed by New York State Senator Samra Brouk, SD-55
Earlier this year, my mother contracted COVID-19. For the entirety of this pandemic, my family—including my parents and grandparents who live in the area—have tried to adhere to every guideline and every safety precaution. And yet this deadly and scary disease found its way into our lives.
Thankfully, my mom has fully recovered from COVID, but many in our region have not been so lucky. We know that Black and brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 mortality and morbidity. So it might make sense that people who look like me and my family would be the first in line to get the vaccine.
However, we cannot ignore the reality that decisions and actions taken by the medical establishment have sown distrust among people of color in the United States. I have spoken to countless district residents about their reluctance to be first in line to get this vaccine. We have generations of experiences that have scarred our families and communities, both nationally and right here in New York State.
We are still grappling with a statewide legacy of segregated medical facilities, where separate and unequal care was given to people of color. A traumatic history of people of color being forcibly sterilized without their consent resonates even today, from the eugenics movement of the early 20th century, to the actions of Indian Health Service against American Indian women in the 1970s, to just a few months ago when a nurse working in an ICE detention center alerted the world to the sterilization of detained immigrant women who likely did not understand the procedures to which they consented. And modern-day health disparities, lack of access to healthcare, and low rates of participation in clinical trials for people of color are all powerful reasons that many in our communities can point to for their reasonable and well-founded fears about the vaccine.
Before I think of myself as an elected official, I identify as a first-generation Black woman born and raised in Rochester. I understand and have personally experienced discrimination and negligence in healthcare settings at the hands of medical professionals who have been largely unaware of their conscious and unconscious racial biases. Even so, I know that I must get the COVID-19 vaccine. And I must encourage my family, friends, and neighbors to do the same.
Stopping this pandemic will require that we use all the tools we have available. The COVID-19 vaccine works with our immune system by helping our bodies prepare to fight the virus if we are ever exposed.
I’m going to take the vaccine to protect myself, and more importantly, to protect other people: like my brother, a nurse who puts his life on the line every day to care for others; for my best friend who is pregnant with her first child; and for my former teacher who is battling cancer. Choosing not to take the vaccine could put my life and the lives of others at risk. And that’s a chance I’m not willing to take.
Senator Samra Brouk (pronounced: Sah-mra Br-uuk) represents New York’s 55th Senate District, including Victor, East Bloomfield, West Bloomfield, Richmond, Bristol, South Bristol, Canadice, and Naples in Ontario County and Rush, Mendon, Pittsford, Perinton, Penfield, East Rochester, and Irondequoit, plus the east side of the City of Rochester in Monroe County. Senator Brouk serves as the Chair of the Mental Health Committee and sits on Health, Education, Elections, Aging, Women’s Issues, and Alcoholism and Substance Abuse committees.